It'll be a veteran crew to lead the UNBC Timberwolves when the men tip off their inaugural CIS season tonight in Kamloops.
Todd Jordan, head coach of the T-wolves, said with a quartet of fifth-year and a couple of fourth-year players on the roster the expectations may be higher than for most expansion squads.
"Our guys think we have a good shot at competing for a playoff spot," said Jordan. "The expectations might be a little higher but at the same time it's going to be a process with the adjustment to the new level."
The adjustment to the 22-game Canada West season begins tonight, 8 p.m., when the T-wolves line up against the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack (6-12 last season, missed playoffs) in their first regular-season action. The two teams face off again Saturday, 8 p.m.
"You can't expect anything. You've just got to go out every single night and play as hard as you possibly can," said Jordan. "Hopefully we can win enough games to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
The T-wolves compiled a 13-3 record in their final PACWEST campaign, winning the championship while averaging 90.75 points per home game and 87.88 points per road game.
Jordan said he's counting on the fifth-year players, led by forward Sam Raphael but also guards Francis Rowe and Joel Rybachuk and forward Jose Araujo to take the team were it wants to go. As fourth-year players, forwards Charles Barton and Gabe Aubertin, will also be counted on to provide leadership.
The 2012 PACWEST champions compiled a 4-5 record through their exhibition season, topping Grande Prairie College twice before placing first at Waterloo University with a 2-1 record, losing the final game 80-71 to the Naismith Classic hosts but having a better won-lost record. Last weekend, the T-wolves dropped their final three preseason games at a tournament at Fraser Valley University.
UNBC lost 88-72 to Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ont.) before falling 88-77 to McMaster University (Hamilton), both top ranked CIS schools. Jordan said the T-wolves were in both games until the end.
"It showed us we can play with those guys but we need to take care of execution a bit more and get better down the stretch," said Jordan.
The final loss was against an old PACWEST foe, Langara College, as the T-wolves stumbled to a 15-for-37 night at the foul line and lost 84-82.
Jordan said he believes there's a lot of parody in the Canada West conference with last season's playoff teams, UBC Thunderbirds (13-5), Saskatchewan (16-4), Alberta (14-6) and Fraser Valley (13-5) appearing strong through the preseason.
The T-birds were ranked first in a preseason Canada West coaches' poll followed by Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Victoria Vikes and Fraser Valley. UNBC was ranked 14th ahead of UBC Okanagan and the Mount Royal University Cougars.
"Canada West, I think is the strongest conference overall top to bottom so we definitely have our challenges set out of us," said Jordan, adding the top team in Canada looks to be perennial champions, the Carlton Ravens.
For freshman players, Nolan Hanson, Josh Raphael, Navjot Bains, Gagan Sahota and second-year transfer Joshua Jebose, Jordan said he's looking for them to be sponges, soaking up wisdom from the quartet of fifth-year players.
"We hope that after this year when we lose [the fifth years] the young guys will develop over the course of the year and we'll expect something from them in the next couple of years," said Jordan.
The T-wolves lost two players off last season's PACWEST championship team, graduating forward Dennis Stark and forward Kevan Madsen.